Ever since I shared the 2021 announcement post for #ReadingValdemar, I’ve been pondering how I might do my reviews differently. On the one hand, you could start Lackey’s Valdemar books anywhere and figure things out. On the other hand, the first series for 2021, The Collegium Chronicles, doesn’t have as much detail about the system of magic. So, who is the audience for these reviews? Likely, anyone who has read a Valdemar book before. Thus, I’m changing up my review style a bit for #ReadingValdemar 2021 to be more inclusive.
Foundation opens with Mags, a thirteen-year-old slave who mines for gems. His ability to spot the tiniest fleck of gem gave him the nickname “Magpie,” and eventually just “Mags.” He doesn’t know his given name, nor does he know much about his parents other than they were of “bad blood” because they made their living illegally.
Rumor has it a strange white horse is attempting to enter the mine, a horse that is eventually accompanied by Valdemar guards. It is no horse, but a Companion who has Chosen Mags and can’t get to the boy. After Mags is removed from the mines and slavery, he lives at a guard post until he is strong enough to travel the seven days to Valdemar’s capital, Haven. Having been starved and denied medical attention his entire life, Mags is in poor shape.
When we get to Haven, readers may be surprised to learn how disorganized Herald training is. About fifty years after the time of Herald-Mage Vanyel, the setting is different from what readers may expect if they’ve read books like The Mage Storms trilogy, which is a more recent time period. Herald trainees were not attending classes, they were paired one-on-one with a full Herald to learn the business of keeping peace, enforcing justice, and defending Valdemar.
For reasons unknown — but that suggest a war may be approaching — more Herald trainees are being Chosen than there are current Heralds to train them. The decision is made to build a collegium to teach Herald trainees in the classroom, just like their Healer and Bard counterparts. The decision to change training tactics that have been used for hundreds of years causes a rift among Heralds, some of who mutter about it and others who harass the newly Chosen trainees in anger.
highs & lows
I enjoyed the slow pace and descriptive settings of Foundation. We’re given a clear sense of how the slaves in the mine are abused and what it looks like there, so it makes sense that Mags still has triggers after he’s removed from the mines. His flinches and guilt and fear all make sense for his former environment, and must be unlearned while he makes sense of trust and friendship. Lackey does not rush this. Typically, one chapter tells readers a young teen is living poorly before he/she is swept off directly to the capital where the youngster bemoans his/her awkwardness compared to more established youth and is plagued with doubt for an annoying amount of time. Lackey avoids that in Foundation and instead focuses on character development.
Mags’s friendship with the Bard trainee Lena is heartwarming in its simplicity. She shares the tragic tale of her dead pet rabbit (which she has at the collegium because she hasn’t any friends), and Mags’s Companion, Dallen, lets Lena ride him. The two hit it off fast and strong, reminding me of other great young friendships, like Anne Shirley and Diana (Anne of Green Gables) or Sara Crewe and Becky (A Little Princess).
Even though he has triggers developed from a lifetime of abuse, Mags’s personality is respected. He isn’t pushed to do more than observe quietly at a fancy party in the capital, and he continues to appreciate that he has food and shelter, which is more than he’d ever hoped for. The wealth gap in Foundation is obvious when it’s reflected through Mags’s experiences (and made more painful given the extreme wealth vs. poverty in the U.S., especially during the pandemic).
exploration of reading preferences
For a fantasy novel, there is little action or impressive fantastical elements in Foundation thus far. Yes, the Companions are spirits that use white horse bodies as avatars, but because they’re so common to the Valdemar series, they don’t feel as fantastical as magic, manipulating mind Gifts in unique ways, or the demon creatures we’ve encountered in previous Valdemar books. Mostly, we’re getting to know an abused human being as he explores the comfort, security, and companionship most people take for granted. As such, Foundation is more about character development in a genre known for action and travel.
Are you willing to read a genre book that is mostly about character development rather than the key ingredients that make the genre what it is? For instance, will you read a romance without a “big misunderstanding”? Fantasy without magic and a journey? Horror without an obvious monster/villain? Let me know about books you’ve read that are more character-driven as an exception to what is commonly expected for the genre in which the book was written.